Because United Solar’s materials are flexible and lightweight, they can be easier and cheaper to install than conventional crystalline-silicon solar cells, and they can be applied to curved roof designs, says Susas. United Solar’s amorphous-silicon photovoltaics also perform better than conventional crystalline-silicon solar cells under low light and high temperature, he says.
“BIPV is very interesting because it offsets some of the costs associated with installation and will probably occupy a larger market share of the residential portion of the market,” says Michael Locascio, a senior analyst with Lux Research, in New York. “But that portion is very small,” he adds. That’s because BIPV systems are primarily limited to new home construction or situations in which the owner needs to replace the roof.
And although the adoption of solar power is growing fast, Locascio cautioned that the future of the industry, at least in the United States, is uncertain. The federal Investment Tax Credit, one of the key incentives driving the adoption of solar power in the United States, is set to expire at the end of the year, and it is unclear whether Congress will extend it.
Currently, Europe remains the largest market for BIPV and solar products in general, says Susas. “There are very high incentives for BIPV in Italy and France.” For instance, United Solar currently sells its solar laminates to a large asphalt-shingle manufacturer in Italy that supplies residential clients with solar shingles.